Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Column: Books and the Future--Did Anyone Notice We Changed by Linda Rohrbough

The Business of Writing:

Books and the Future – Did Anyone Notice We Changed?

by Linda Rohrbough

The book publishing world is definitely changing. No one knows yet how things will shake out, but there are a couple of developments worth noting in the last year.

One is Andrew Wiley, principle of the Wiley Literary Agency, sold a series of twenty books by authors like Phillip Roth to for distribution as e-books. As a result the Wiley Agency got themselves blackballed by publisher Random House. Here’s The New York Times article on this interesting development.

On another front, Christian Retailing reported publisher Tyndale went into a joint venture with an African bookstore company and together they opened a big, new bookstore in Wheaton, Illinois. I see this as a move by a publisher to take some control over the distribution channel. And at a time when the big retailers, like Borders and Barnes & Noble, are bleeding red ink.

If you guys will remember, about a year ago I wrote that I had the privilege of being a technology news reporter when the VCR was introduced. Okay so I’m showing my age, but at that time the industry analysts all said there’d come a time when we’d never got to another movie theatre. And I dutifully reported it because that’s what I was paid to do. Well, we all know that didn’t happen.

And now I hear people saying paper books are going to go away. Since I have more experience now and I can say with certainty that’s horse hockey. What I think the real fear is among writers is people are going to stop wanting books. Nope. Not going to happen. Reading is up according to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Personally, I can attest to reading more than ever.

But the distribution channel is changing. It’s getting wider. In a way no one anticipated. That change is driven by something no one is talking about - we changed. I remember grieving the fact that I couldn’t read and I missed it. Not because I couldn’t find the time, but I couldn’t lug around a book along with the phone, organizer, computer and the other stuff I was schlepping. And travel has changed. I can no longer afford to lug six books around in my suitcase. Plus, I have no more space for bookshelves at home. The whole thing was getting too hard to manage.

Now I carry my phone and my iPad. So its much easier to read. However, if you haven’t figured this out yet, the publishing business is slow. While the bean counters are trying to figure out what happened, publishers are signing fewer book contracts and counting on the big name authors because they don’t know what else to do.

I wonder if this happened when the printing press was invented? Was there an outcry on the part of the people producing scrolls? Talk about a narrow distribution channel. What happened to their jobs as the world shifted to mass-produced, printed copy? I’ll bet no one producing scrolls lost their job. But a whole bunch of people without the skill to hand-copy text now had a whole world opened up to them. You see what I’m getting at here.

Writers, though, never went away. Not when scrolls were popular. Not when the printing press was introduced. And not now when e-books are flooding the market and change is happening again. Because the one lasting concept is someone who can tell a story is always in demand. Always. So don’t let go of that.

Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, with over 5,000 articles and seven books along with a number of national fiction and non-fiction awards to her credit. Her latest book, co-authored with her surgeon, is Weight Loss Surgery with the Adjustable Gastric Band from Da Capo Press. She is also under contract for an iPhone App of her “Learn to Talk About Your Book” workshop, scheduled for release Spring 2011. Visit her website

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